Starbreeze Crafts Moving Narrative in Brothers

Avi Vogel, Columnist

It was 2 a.m. when my computer screen finally faded to black, credits rolling. Controller still clutched tightly as the names scrolled down the screen, I realized the adventure was over. A mixture of emotions ran over me — happiness, loss, feelings from all ends of the spectrum — but what I felt above all else was elation at having been a part of a fantastic journey.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, released by Starbreeze Studios in 2013, is a puzzle-oriented game that offers much more than just brainteasers. The game follows two brothers on their journey to find a cure for their ailing father. The cure is kept in a tree that’s only hinted at on a scroll given to the player in the opening moments of the game. The controls include the two joysticks and two triggers on a controller of the player’s choice that can hook up easily to your computer. Each joystick controls a different brother, which takes a bit of time to adjust to, and each trigger prompts the given brother to interact with their environment. The older brother can do more physically trying activities, while the younger one can fit into tight places and be lifted to out-of-reach objects. Although this may seem lacking in creativity, the ingenious strategies required of the player grow more impressive as gameplay continues.

Besides the main puzzles that obstruct your path, there are smaller obstacles on the side that are relatively easy to clear. Though they’re not important to the overall progress of the game, they serve to enhance an already luscious world.

In style, the graphics take their influence from European fairy tales. But, the imagery is not the dark-lined and heavily shaded images that are associated with the Brothers Grimm. The shapes themselves are colorful and soft, blending together to create a uniquely styled landscape. Each section of your journey has a distinct style and color, but all the scenery remains tied to a single world. Part of the joy of Brothers is just seeing what is around the next corner. Its style makes you feel like you are watching a story in action, gently nudging the characters along a predetermined path rather than making decisions that radically shape the world. Although that seems like a lost opportunity in our current world of video games that tout player choice, it allows the developers to create a tight, finely crafted story that not only has a cohesive narrative but also explores themes that might be lost if the player took a different route.

However, this game doesn’t focus on tight controls. There are times where your character will get caught on geometry or you’ll move too fast and phase through some textures, though the gameplay is nuanced so that it doesn’t detract from the experience. Focusing solely on the brothers’ movements and interactions with the world they inhabit allows the player to plumb the depths of immersion. Sometimes puzzles are broken up by clever gameplay quirks, but these aren’t the selling points of Brothers.

Though the aforementioned facets may be relatively common, they combine to create an experience that is anything but. There are games that do puzzles better, have greater graphics on a larger scale and even run smoother. But at its heart, this game offers a touching tale set in a grand world that, at many times, seems indifferent to your presence. Each screen hints at a larger story that we never get to see, and every place you visit has a backstory that almost emerges just beneath the main narrative. But as much as you’d like to stay and linger, you cannot. The brothers’ commitment to their father is front and center, but the scope of the world is not lost. Instead, it seems even more real amid the fantastical setting. Yet while the aesthetics of the game are pleasing, the storyline itself is far from cheery. From the beginning, this is a game steeped in loss. The impending loss of their father looms over the brothers’ heads and propels the game forward.

The only thing regrettable about this game is that it ends. It’s a small adventure, taking about two hours, so the plot never feels extraneous, and the game lasts for a perfect amount of time. Its emotionally sentient end is enough to move a gamer to tears, something that few other games can accomplish. If you’ve ever wanted to experience a game that is more than just a game, let Brothers help.